The dictionary definition of wanderlust is, “a strong desire to travel” (dictionary.com). “Desire” is the key word in this definition. It’s desire that moves us to act and pursue our best lives and our best selves. Without it, we would just wish. The idea that wanderlust pushes us to pursue our dreams, whether it’s travel or starting a new job, or just becoming our best selves is inspiring and powerful.
In my case, desire moves me, almost literally, to explore the world by traveling. And by traveling, I am filled with inspiration, which leads me to be a better coach to you, dear reader. I fell madly, romantically in love with Paris. The city set my heart on fire. Believe it or not, this fire keeps burning when I get home, and ignites the work I do with you. This second stay in Paris really proved that lesson to me. Wanderlusting makes me a better me.
Falling in Love All Over Again
We arrived back in Paris mid-afternoon at the Gare de L’est station. This time around we were staying in Canal Saint-Martin, in the 10th Arrondissement. It’s a quieter area with quaint streets, bridges over canals. Immediately, my heart was aflutter. Paris, the crush that was turning into real love. Canal Saint-Martin is an up-and-coming part of the city that used to be marked by boarded up windows and closed businesses. Now, it hosts some of the best coffee shops, patisseries, boulangeries, and boutique shops in all of Paris!
Pigalle – also known as the red-light district – was our first stop. It’s home to the famous cafe, Le Chat Noir. You’ve certainly seen the French poster featuring the cafe; large black cat, yellow background, big, black, swirly type. It was a hotbed of activity in the late 1800 playing host to artists, singers, musicians, writers. And here I was, sitting with my husband, a carafe of rosé, admiring the autographs of artists, singers and entertainers on the ceiling of this iconic establishment.
Pigalle is located on the border of Montmartre. You may know this as the neighborhood from the movie, Amelié. It’s the charming, old part of Paris where artists and writers lived inspired lives in the late 1800s, including Monet, Renoir, Degas, Picasso, and van Gogh. This is the Paris of my dreams – with narrow cobblestone streets and Parisians smiling at you everywhere you go. Montmartre is built on a hillside, with Sacré-Cœur Basilica at its summit. It’s pure love that propels one to climb these cobblestone streets. Oooh and ahhhing at every charming feature – and there are so many – distracts from the heart-pounding hike that is Montmartre. From the steps of Sacré-Cœur, Paris spreads out before you. On the limestone steps we sat, opened a bottle of La Goudale beer, and toasted our love, Paris (and us, of course).
A light rain fell as we traversed the streets of Montmartre. Our instincts, now French-speaking, directed us to the nearest cafe where we warmed ourselves with vin chaud – a mildly spiced, warming wine traditionally made during the winter months in France. I sipped the warm beverage and melted into the simplistic, quaint lifestyle of the city. We shared the delights of cafe culture by popping into the cafe across the street for French onion soup (but I suppose in France, they just call it “onion soup”).
A Montmartre walking tour app suggested attending an evening show at “Au Lapin Agile,” translating to the “Agile Rabbit” – once a legendary cabaret frequented by Pablo Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, who both have paintings hanging inside.
The cabaret at Au Lapin Agile was unlike anything we‘ve experienced. The performers – ranging in age from early 30s to late 60s – sang folk songs from old Paris, as you’d expect, in French. When we didn’t laugh along at their humor, it became obvious to them we didn’t speak the language (Dane was a little rusty in his French). One of the performers was nice enough to ask if we understood and proceeded to explain the jokes. Honestly, it didn’t matter that we didn’t understand the language. Their warm voices, animated expressions and dramatic actions told plenty of the story. And, being a part of this historic type of performance was pleasure enough.
As we wound our way down the hill from Montmartre around 2 a.m., we passed the red glow of the historic Moulin Rouge, the blades of her windmill spun dreamily in the night. Montmartre filled our heads with the romantic era of historic Paris as we drifted off to dreamland.
My Heart is Full of Paris
Lazily, we rose and greeted another glorious day in Paris. We caught the Réseau Express Régional (RER) train to the Palace of Versailles and were transported back to the 17th Century.
Versailles was the home of the “Sun King” Louis XIV. The grounds are impeccably manicured and the palace glisten with gilded gold. Walking through the elaborate golden gates makes one feel small and insignificant, yet awe-inspired by the grandeur of the architecture, tapestries, murals, statues, and shimmering accents all around. I thought I might peek into a room and find Mozart playing a sonata for Louis the XIV’s daughters as we walked through the halls.
The glistening Hall of Mirrors, the opulent bedrooms, the ornate gardens, it was overwhelming. I couldn’t imagine how the guest of the king, or a dignitary sent to negotiate wouldn’t be intimidated. With such feelings, we couldn’t only do one thing – find a cafe. The chateau is home to ORE Restaurant where we had hot chocolate that would spoil any future hot chocolate we will ever drink. The melted chocolate is so thick it leaves an opaque layer on the white mugs that will only come off if you lick it, which, of course, I did.
With chocolate-lined stomachs we boarded the train back to Paris as the sun began to set. At long last, it was time to visit the Eiffel Tower. As the most iconic structure in Paris, it is certainly a tourist mecca. But I didn’t care. I’d dreamed of visiting this landmark since I was a little girl. As it came it to full view, my heart skipped a beat. There it was – it’s beautiful wrought-iron, laced design growing into the sky. Finally, I stood beneath it, my heart racing, with my husband and with Paris. At that moment, so in love with them both. There was nothing to do but mark the moment with a kiss. Oh, la la!
Sappy, and so in love, we strolled the Champ de Mars so we could see the Tower from all angles. Cherry and acacia trees with tiny, pink blossoms lined the streets. Dusk turned to night, and the streetlights came to life. As the clock struck 9 p.m., the Eiffel Tower burst into a sea of twinkling lights. I struggled to take in all the feelings. We were here, sitting in a park, without any crowd, watching the Eiffel Tower glisten in the night.
The only thing that could follow an experience such as this, is a visit to a fromagerie. Dane suggested it, and he truly knows the way to my heart. We found a small shop just a few blocks from the Champ de Mars. When we stepped inside, the aroma was absolute heaven! How could I even begin to pick which cheeses with so many decadent choices? The shop owner was happy to oblige and made some idyllic recommendations for both cheese and wine pairings as well.
Cheese-filled bags in hand, we made our way toward the Champs-Élysées to see the Arc de Triomphe. As we walked across the bridge at Pont Alexandre III I truly felt the presence of Paris engulf me. As I looked out over the extended arms of the nymph sculptures pointing toward the glistening Eiffel Tower, with riverboats passing below on the Seine, the tears welled in my eyes. This moment didn’t feel real, but it was. All the dreams I’d imagined about having “my moment” in Paris since I was a little girl flooded in. I could have spent the rest of the night standing on that bridge breathing in the city. This can’t be just a crush. This is love.
Later that night, after walking the Champs-Élysées and seeing the Arc de Triomphe aglow in the busy city square, we walked back over my bridge once again. I needed to bask in the beauty of the City of Lights. On our way “home” pas the lights of the Eiffel Tower I stole glances back at the Pont Alexandre III bridge, where I fell in love with the city, and thanked Paris for welcoming us with open arms.
Paris Shows Us Her Artistic Side
Ah, morning in Paris. Starting the day with cheese, fresh croissants and a cafe creme. Is there anything better? Why yes, in fact. Museum day in Paris! There are no shortages of museums in this gorgeous city. We had decided on two, starting with Musee d’Orsay – a former train station that was converted to a museum in 1986. It holds the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in the world.
As we walked through the halls of the Impressionist masters – Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, and Van Gogh – I felt like I was meeting my art history heroes for the first time. We spent three hours admiring all the work in this architecturally stunning museum as I recalled my college art history studies.
Next was The Louvre. My visit had but one purpose: to visit the Denon wing where my favorite work of art of all-time lives – the marble statue, The Winged Victory. This sculpture from the Hellenistic period was created around the second century BC and is one of the few pieces from this time period to survive centuries of wars dating back as far as Ottoman Empire. It depicts Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory. This elegant, yet domineering and imposing statue, portrays the iconic beauty of a triumphant spirit. Her creator is unknown.
Her head and arms have never been found. Modern art historians believe the statue was originally placed in the view of incoming ships to represent the goddess descended from the skies to greet a triumphant fleet of ships. Winged Victory is prominently placed at the top of the Daru staircase – a grand, wide, marbled feature itself – in the Louvre. As we walked up the staircase to get a closer look, tears welled up in my eyes. I’ve had a miniature statue of The Winged Victory in my bedroom for nearly a decade and would often find myself looking to her when I needed strength or inspiration. Standing in the graceful presence of this confident figure was one of the most impactful times of my life. I gained a whole new appreciation of sculptures that interpreted the Divine coming face to face with man.
On our way out we stole quick glances at the Mona Lisa, the iconic depiction of Liberty Leading the People, Grande Odalisque, and The Raft of the Medusa. All were glorious in their own right, but they were for another trip. We had to come to the Louvre with a purpose, and we had fulfilled it.
It was the late afternoon as we walked the streets to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral. Once inside, we lit a few candles to send positive thoughts to friends and family in need. It felt only respectful to spend a moment sitting in a pew to take in the sheer magnitude and beauty of this historical structure.
Side note: We visited Notre Dame just before the massive fires that burned much of the cathedral in April 2019. Writing this brings up so much emotion. One thing I noticed, in seeing the photos of the cathedral altar after the fire, is most of it is still intact. It doesn’t look much different from the photo I took from where we were seated. This iconic cathedral is a symbol of sanctuary and strength and recovery, because history never dies.
We made our way over to Shakespeare and Company, the famous, quaint bookstore opened in the early 20th century. It’s known for having a charming collection of new, second-hand, and antiquarian books. And, because it’s Paris, there’s a cozy coffee shop next door where you can sip café crème and enjoy the books you just purchased. Joie de vivre!
Late in the evening Montmartre called to us, and we answered. We found a cafe to sit, sip wine, people watch, and become part of Paris at night. We were so very French – enjoying the quiet streets of Montmartre next to Parisians, young and old, at 11 p.m. C’ęst Magnifique!
Paris is for Lovers
Our last day with Paris, my love. I was determined to make every, easy-going moment last by leisurely exploring Canal Saint-Martin. After a satisfying breakfast of fresh crepes paired with a dry cider, we strolled the streets of the canal district popping in to boutiques here and there. Our research revealed this neighborhood had the best coffee shop and bakery in all of Paris. It would have been a shame to miss it. So, we didn’t! We ordered cafe cremes at Ten Bells and took our time enjoying every sip.
On to Du Pain et des Idees for a staple of the Parisian diet – freshly baked bread! The aroma of freshly baked breads and pastries called like a siren to Parisians, who happily waited in line for their purchase. Once inside, it was hard not to buy everything, toss out our clothes and fill our suitcases with bread for the trip home. Alas, one small loaf of freshly baked bread to enjoy with our cheese and a specialty patisserie known as, Chocolate Pistachio Escargot. Bon appetit!
Like the Parisians we were, we strolled back to our Airbnb and enjoyed our purchase with meats, cheese and red wine. Hello! We live here now, and this is what we do all day. Zoot alors! Leisure time caught up with us, and we hurried to catch the metro to Pont Neuf for our river cruise.
We departed the dock, complimentary champagne in hand, as the lights of Paris softly reflected off the water. As we wound our way under the first of many bridges, Dane informed me it was a romantic tradition for couples to kiss as they passed under each bridge. I happily obliged. It looked like we had a long ride full of smooches ahead.
If you have the opportunity, I’d highly recommend a nighttime river cruise in Paris. There is no better way to feel the romance of Paris and appreciate her beauty than from the bow of a river boat. We gazed at the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower and passed under the Point Alexandre III bridge where I fell in love with Paris. I kissed Dane (and all of Paris) with all the love I had inside.
Paris, you are fascinating, diverse, large, dirty, and romantic. I surrendered all my preconceived notions of what you would be like and fell magically in love with you. You have seen so much history. You’re able to evolve, while staying to true your independent roots. I know I will be back to visit you, because there will always be more to explore and experience. (I seriously started studying French as soon as we returned home.) So, Paris this isn’t goodbye, it’s “en attendant de nous revoir” – Until we meet again.
Making my childhood dreams of Paris a reality is proof that you can also make your dreams a reality. I never let Paris be a place I just dreamed of. I knew I had to visit. Though it took well into my adult years to make it happen, I never let go of the dream. And achieving that dream set me on fire. That desire to achieve is what makes me a better me. Now, how can we make you, a better you?